GOBankingRates

Ideal Salary Needed To Afford College in Your State — Without Loans

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Americans have been taking on more and more debt to keep up with the rising cost of college. According to research group EducationData.org, Americans owe $1.73 trillion in student loan debt. But how much would you have to earn to avoid — or help your children avoid — the college debt trap and live comfortably while doing so?

Check It Out: Where These Top CEOS Went To College
See: These Elite Colleges Went Virtual — But Raised Tuition Anyway

GOBankingRates surveyed the cost of living, mortgage rates and college costs — using College Board data on the average price of in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions — to calculate what you need to earn to pay for college without loans.

Last updated: Sept. 9, 2021
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Alabama

  • Income for in-state tuition: $74,988

Alabama falls within the bottom half of states for income needed to pay for college due to a lower cost of living than most states. It’s also on the cheaper side for college tuition, with in-state tuition and fees for 2020-21 averaging out to just over $11,000.

More on College Costs: 10 Online Colleges With the Most Affordable Bachelor’s Degrees

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Alaska

  • Income for in-state tuition: $111,031

The average college tuition and fees of just $8,590 for in-state students are among the 10 lowest in the country. However, because the cost of living is high, Alaska residents need to earn more than most. The annual cost of necessities in Alaska is $51,220.

Discover: What It Would Really Mean To Cancel Student Loan Debt

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Arizona

  • Income for in-state tuition: $95,970

Arizona residents likely will have to borrow money to send their kids to a state university if they’re not ready for this high cost. With average in-state tuition and fees of $11,880, Arizona families need more than $95,000 in annual income to cover college costs in addition to everything else.

Learn: The 10 College Degrees That Pay the Least

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Arkansas

  • Income for in-state tuition: $69,153

Thanks to a low cost of living and relatively low tuition and fees for state schools at $9,070, the annual income needed for Arkansas residents to send their kids to an in-state college is the third-lowest on the list.

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California

  • Income for in-state tuition: $136,067

The income necessary to send someone to college in California is the second-highest in the nation. But this has more to do with the high cost of living. Golden State residents will pay under $10,000 a year in tuition and fees in 2020-21.

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Colorado

  • Income for in-state tuition: $104,490

Colorado residents need a higher annual income to pay for college and live comfortably than residents in all but 11 states. Much of that can be attributed to the high cost of buying a home — the average home value is over $482,000, according to Zillow.

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Connecticut

  • Income for in-state tuition: $110,425

Connecticut is an expensive place to live, and both the in-state tuition and the income necessary to afford it are among the 10 highest in this study. Of course, there are plenty of people who can pay the bill. Connecticut has four ZIP codes where the median household income is higher than $200,000.

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Delaware

  • Income for in-state tuition: $97,211

Only 15 states require a higher salary to be able to afford in-state tuition. That’s on the high side, too, at $13,600.

Take a Look: The Economy and Your Money: All You Need To Know

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Florida

  • Income for in-state tuition: $89,285

Florida might be one of the best states to retire rich, but there might also be reasons to move there prior to your golden years. At just $6,370 a year, the average in-state tuition in Florida is the second-lowest in the country.

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Georgia

  • Income for in-state tuition: $81,263

Thanks to a low cost of living and relatively low in-state tuition and fees of $8,790, Georgia families don’t need as high of an annual income for college costs.

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Hawaii

  • Income for in-state tuition: $157,734

Hawaii requires the highest annual income to pay for in-state college costs and live comfortably in the country. That’s primarily due to the highest home prices and costs for basic necessities in the U.S., but the tuition costs are on the higher side at $11,990.

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Idaho

  • Income for in-state tuition: $92,811

The average in-state tuition and fees of $8,000 for Idaho public institutions is the sixth-lowest in the U.S. That does make it somewhat odd that Idaho lands in the middle of the pack for what it costs to live comfortably while paying for college. However, its overall ranking is in line with its average cost of necessities.

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Illinois

  • Income for in-state tuition: $94,130

At $14,420, Illinois has the fourth-highest average for in-state college costs. Affordability is helped by the state’s below-average costs for groceries, utilities and healthcare.

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Indiana

  • Income for in-state tuition: $76,925

The annual income needed in Indiana to pay for college and live comfortably is the eighth-lowest overall. Although in-state tuition is actually a little higher than most states, Indiana is one of the 10 least expensive states for basic necessities in the nation, helping to make tuition more affordable.

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Iowa

  • Income for in-state tuition: $78,646

Iowa’s $34,638 cost of annual necessities is among the 20 lowest in the nation, with the state scoring well for its average home value of $165,083. This is all part of why Iowa is one of the best states for the middle class.

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Kansas

  • Income for in-state tuition: $78,124

Kansas has the 10th-lowest average monthly mortgage payment, which helps families to afford the $9,360 annual tuition and fees.

See: Can You Afford Education in America at These Prices?

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Kentucky

  • Income for in-state tuition: $76,068

Kentucky finishes in the top 10 for needing less to get by while sending a kid to college. The average tuition costs and fees of $11,000 aren’t especially low, but the lesser cost of living and owning a home in Kentucky make up for it.

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Louisiana

  • Income for in-state tuition: $75,840

The income needed to comfortably pay college tuition in Louisiana is lower than most. Tuition and fees are just shy of $10,000 a year.

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Maine

  • Income for in-state tuition: $96,063

Maine residents need less to pay for college and live comfortably than residents in about one-third of the states, with in-state tuition priced at $10,750. Only 17 states have higher tuition and fees.

Learn: The Most Expensive Colleges in Every State

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Maryland

  • Income for in-state tuition: $100,474

Maryland might require more money than most to get by while sending a kid to college, but the state’s residents are much more likely to be able to afford it. Maryland has the second most millionaires per capita of any state in the country.

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Massachusetts

  • Income for in-state tuition: $125,349

Massachusetts requires the third-highest annual income to pay for college and live comfortably, which is in line with the state’s third-highest cost of basic necessities and third-highest average monthly mortgage bill. Plus, the high cost of living here makes Massachusetts one of the states where residents are most likely to live paycheck to paycheck.

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Michigan

  • Income for in-state tuition: $86,211

Michigan has an interesting combination of factors, with the cost of buying a home and paying for necessities among the most reasonable in the country. However, it has the seventh-highest in-state tuition costs.

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Minnesota

  • Income for in-state tuition: $95,794

The Land of 10,000 Lakes has in-state tuition and fees that are the 13th-highest in the country. The cost of necessities is above average in every category but utilities.

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Mississippi

  • Income for in-state tuition: $67,860

The income necessary to afford in-state tuition and fees of $8,640 is the second-lowest in the country.

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Missouri

  • Income for in-state tuition: $77,411

Missouri is one of just 13 states where the income needed to pay for tuition without compromising on the rest of your bills is under $80,000. One thing helping make that possible is the chance to get cheaper homes, with an average home value of just less than $190,000.

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Montana

  • Income for in-state tuition: $91,159

Despite the fifth-lowest in-state tuition and fees of $7,400, Montana ranks among the top half of states for income needed to pay for college and live comfortably. This need for a higher income is because residents need more to cover necessities, splurges and savings.

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Nebraska

  • Income for in-state tuition: $81,887

Nebraska’s in-state tuition and fees are relatively low at $9,080 a year.

If you’re looking to splurge, though, consider Creighton University, the most expensive college in the state. Tuition and fees will cost you over $43,000 annually.

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Nevada

  • Income for in-state tuition: $96,521

Nevada’s average in-state tuition and fees of $8,290 are lower than public college costs in all but seven states. However, the annual cost of necessities, splurges and savings runs higher than in most states. As a result, the income required to live comfortably and send a kid to college is higher than in the upper third of states.

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New Hampshire

  • Income for in-state tuition: $114,805

New Hampshire ranks among the top 10 states for the annual income needed to pay for college and live comfortably. The cost of living is relatively high, but the big reason residents need a higher income to send their kids to school is because of the second-highest in-state tuition and fees — $16,960.

Related: The Best Colleges With Tuition Under $20K

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New Jersey

  • Income for in-state tuition: $118,049

New Jersey also falls among the top 10 states for annual income needed to send a child to college and live comfortably — fourth-highest, to be specific. That makes sense since New Jersey has the fifth-highest average tuition for in-state students in the country.

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New Mexico

  • Income for in-state tuition: $79,874

New Mexico’s tuition rates are low — seventh lowest for in-state students — and the salary requirement is 13th lowest on the list.

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New York

  • Income for in-state tuition: $98,291

New York is one of 37 states below the $100,000 salary threshold needed to afford in-state tuition. That’s because tuition and fees are just $8,500 at state campuses.

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North Carolina

  • Income for in-state tuition: $82,661

North Carolina’s university system is pretty friendly to its fellow Tar Heels. The state has the fourth-lowest average in-state tuition and fees.

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North Dakota

  • Income for in-state tuition: $87,874

North Dakota’s average in-state tuition and fees of $9,690 are relatively low. So it’s the cost of necessities, splurges and savings that push up the income needed to live comfortably and pay for college in this state.

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Ohio

  • Income for in-state tuition: $80,834

The average value of a home in Ohio is less than $180,000, but only 14 states require a lower income to live comfortably. That’s because Ohio’s in-state tuition and fees cost $11,670.

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Oklahoma

  • Income for in-state tuition: $72,529

The cost of living in Oklahoma is relatively low, with only three states requiring a lesser salary to pay tuition and fees. Those are, by the way, $8,970 a year.

Find Out: 20 Jobs That Pay $60,000 Right Out of College

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Oregon

  • Income for in-state tuition: $112,551

Oregon is one of the states where you need to earn the most to afford college, necessitating the seventh-highest income for in-state tuition. That is owed, in part, to an average home value of more than $434,000.

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Pennsylvania

  • Income for in-state tuition: $94,838

Although the cost of necessities and other expenses are relatively low in Pennsylvania, residents have to pay the third-highest in-state tuition and fees at $14,990, pushing the necessary income to pay for college much higher than the state’s cost of living would seem to indicate.

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Rhode Island

  • Income for in-state tuition: $110,914

Rhode Island’s relatively high in-state tuition of $13,630, combined with high expenses, means residents need to earn more than residents in most states to have enough to put a kid through college and live comfortably — the income required for in-state tuition is the ninth-highest in the country.

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South Carolina

  • Income for in-state tuition: $85,510

South Carolina residents have high tuition costs, with in-state students paying the 12th-highest rate in the country at $13,060.

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South Dakota

  • Income for in-state tuition: $82,843

South Dakota falls just within the 20 lowest incomes needed to pay for college without a loan. The in-state cost of tuition and fees is $9,110.

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Tennessee

  • Income for in-state tuition: $78,329

It takes less income to pay for college in Tennessee and live comfortably than in most states because the cost of living is relatively low, even if college costs are slightly higher than $10,000.

Take a Look: Explore the Cost of Education in the United States

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Texas

  • Income for in-state tuition: $86,838

The income necessary to send a kid to college and still live comfortably in Texas is just about in the middle in relation to the other 50 states. It’s the 23rd lowest on the list.

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Utah

  • Income for in-state tuition: $98,782

Utah’s average in-state tuition of $7,250 is the third-lowest in the nation. However, the income needed to pay for college and live comfortably is higher than in more than nearly two-thirds of the states because the cost of an average home is about $450,000.

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Vermont

  • Income for in-state tuition: $109,962

At $17,510, Vermont has the highest in-state tuition and fees, about $600 more than neighboring New Hampshire. As a result, Vermont ranks among the top 15 states for the income needed to pay for college and live comfortably.

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Virginia

  • Income for in-state tuition: $95,180

Residents of only 20 states need a higher income to pay for college and live comfortably. This ranking is because in-state tuition is the eighth-highest in the country.

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Washington

  • Income for in-state tuition: $117,475

Washington ranks fifth-highest for income needed to send your child to college and live comfortably. The average in-state tuition and fees of $10,560 aren’t that high, but the cost of living is.

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West Virginia

  • Income for in-state tuition: $67,671

West Virginia residents need to earn less to pay for college than in any state in the U.S. That’s because the in-state tuition is low, and the cost of living is even lower. West Virginia’s average monthly mortgage payment is $437.

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Wisconsin

  • Income for in-state tuition: $86,799

Wisconsin falls just outside the top 20 for states where sending a kid to college in-state is most affordable at No. 22. The tuition bill is $9,120 a year — also No. 22 on the list.

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Wyoming

  • Income for in-state tuition: $80,450

At $5,790, Wyoming has the lowest average in-state tuition and fees of any state. However, it doesn’t rank at the very bottom of states for the income needed to pay for college and live comfortably due to higher costs for mortgage and necessities, especially groceries.

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Ideal Salary Needed To Afford College in Your State — Without Loans

The results of the study confirm that college tuition is unaffordable for many Americans across the country. With the cost of attending college being higher than it’s ever been, every state in this study requires more than the national median household income to pay for in-state tuition.

More From GOBankingRates

Jami Farkas and Cameron Huddleston contributed to the reporting for this article.

Methodology: For this piece, GOBankingRates first surveyed monthly living expenses in all 50 states. The cost-of-living comparison included the following factors: (1) 2020/21 in-state tuition as sourced from College Board; (2) yearly mortgage by assuming 20% down payment, 30-year fixed loan, current interest rate as sourced from St. Louis Federal Reserve (2.87%) for every state and multiplying that by 12 (one year), sourced from Zillow’s home value index and determined using Zillow’s Mortgage Calculator; (3) annual necessities cost (grocery, utilities, healthcare and transportation) by taking the 2019/2020 midyear Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer expenditure survey for a consumer unit with “at least one child aged 6 -17)” and factored out by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center’s cost-of-living index for Quarter 2 of 2021. Necessity costs were totaled the annual dollar cost of necessities in each state. This dollar amount for necessities was then doubled to find the (4) actual annual income needed to live comfortably in the city, assuming a person is following the 50-30-20 budgeting guideline, which requires an income double the cost of necessities. The amount of money specified for savings is equal to 20% of the total income needed, and the amount specified for discretionary spending is equal to 30% of the total income needed. GOBankingRates then took factor (1) and added it to factor (4) to give (5) the income needed to send a child to a public four-year college on in-state tuition. All data was collected and is up to date as of Sept. 1, 2021.